It’s ‘A Matter of Taste’
A variety of hot, fresh, made-from-scratch, new menu items will debut in Fort Worth ISD school cafeterias when classes begin on Monday, August 19.
The District’s new food service provider, SodexoMAGIC, plans a wide-variety of innovative and nutritious “crowd-pleasing” food concepts aimed at engaging and satisfying students and staff who patronize school cafeterias across the District on a daily basis.
On Wednesday, August 14, just a few days prior to the start of school, students, teachers and staff, as well as some parents, from FWISD’s Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, nearby campuses and local media were treated to the new food items appearing on school menus in the coming months. Options available at the “taste test” included beefy taco salad, spicy chorizo pizza, pesto Italian wraps, made-to-order and buffet-style salads, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
“This is something different and it tastes pretty good,” said Ivaan Hernandez, a rising sophomore who tried the new barbeque pizza. “It tastes good and it looks good.
“It’s a different variety It’s just something different that you don’t see at a high school.”
In April 2019, the FWISD Board of Education approved a contract with Sodexo MAGIC to provide child nutrition services for all of the District’s students. The decision to contract with a food management service is twofold, said Clint Bond, FWISD spokesman and external and emergency communications executive director.
“It’s better if the District as a whole does fewer things but does them well, and one of those things that we need to do is educate children. So, if we get out of some businesses, if we get out of doing some things, and we turn them over to the professionals in doing those things, then we can concentrate on what’s important,” Mr. Bond told reporters at the event. “We also want to give the students an option to stay on campus, especially… at the high school level. Having better food, incorporating food trucks, which Sodexo will do for us, and having better menus, things that are more eye-appealing, we hope to keep kids on the campus instead of going off campus.”
That appealing variety is important to Derek Cagnolatti, a Southwest High School parent who attended the taste test with his son Jelani, a rising junior.
“It was just good that kids were able to get more of a healthy choice. A lot of times, they just eat junk for lunch, and with the epidemic of childhood, Type 2 Diabetes going on, we really need to get them eating healthy early and often nowadays,” he said. “It’s more pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the taste too. That’s what kind of turns kids off to cafeteria food is it looks like cafeteria food … but this drew me, and the taste matched the looks.”
Meal prices will remain the same, which pleased some DHJ staffers who said the food was “comparable” with what they could make at home or get off campus. The employees said that they’re likely to eat on campus, which saves the time they would spend preparing meals at home to bring to work and the money they would spend eating off campus.
“It’s just a win,” said first-year reading teacher Emily Metzgar. She added that with students having a varied selection of food options available, she’s hopeful they’ll eat on campus and return to class with a full stomach and ready to learn, which positively impacts their performance in class.
DHJ Assistant Principal Elsie Wartelle agrees. As a former DHJ student and teacher, she said she’s seen the offerings in the cafeteria wane over the years, with fewer nutritious options. She said she’s excited about what she’s seeing being infused into the lunch lines.
“I do cafeteria duty every day, and in the past, all I’ve seen are the majority of the kids they eat pizza every day or chips and a drink, nothing nutritious. So, this I’m happy that it gives them healthier food to eat, that’s delicious so that they’ll want to eat it and then hopefully that will help them in the classroom to be able to concentrate more,” Ms. Wartelle said. “It definitely will enhance their palate and I think word of mouth will go a long way. They may be hesitant to try something but once kids try it … I think it will be good for our kids. They’re not going to know what happened.”
There are 129 kitchens in the Fort Worth ISD, employing well over 900 workers. Last school year the District served 5.4 million breakfast meals and 9.8 million lunch meals. Across the District, 96 schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) which results in all students in those schools, regardless of financial background, being eligible for meals at no cost.